The regular meeting of the Greensboro City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 4 went the way that so many regular meetings go. The only interesting part was the speakers from the floor, who fell into two completely different camps. One group made up of speakers who had spoken when the body-worn camera video of the arrest of Dejuan Yourse by Police Officers Travis Cole and C.N. Jackson, who have both since resigned, was released, praised the City Council for their action. The other was made up of representatives of the rank-and-file police officers who challenged the version of events that has been promoted by the City Council.
The only other thing discussed at any length by the City Council was the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) percentages of a contract for work at the Greensboro Coliseum. Councilmember Sharon Hightower once again demonstrated her lack of understanding of how contracts are awarded and how the MWBE program works.
Councilmember Justin Outling has finally had enough of Hightower’s constant haranguing of city staff over MWBE goals, which Hightower insists should be treated as quotas. Outling suggested the questions be raised in City Council work sessions. Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann suggested one on one meetings with the staff. Neither will work because Hightower clearly wants her questions televised.
In the contract up for approval on Tuesday night, the contractor exceeded the MWBE goals and Councilmember Mike Barber got a laugh by suggesting that the contracts be renegotiated because they went over the goals. Hightower has in the past insisted that the city renegotiate contracts when the contractor didn’t meet the goals, even though they are goals, not quotas.
But the real meat of the meeting was in the speakers from the floor when the City Council finally heard from the rank-and-file police officers, the men and women who are putting their lives on the line every day for the people of Greensboro. About 15 off-duty police officers attended the meeting.
The president of the Greensboro Police Officers Association Ryan Walton, who said he represents about 650 police officers, spoke to the City Council about the recent controversy concerning the arrest of Yourse and the release of the police body worn camera footage of Cole and Jackson.
Walton had two points. First was that the video is a tool in determining what occurred, but without context a video can be misleading. He gave the example of watching professional football and that even after watching replays people disagree about what happened. He said that as long as it was done legally, “We support the release of body-worn camera footage.” But he added that watching the footage alone isn’t enough.
His second point was that this was not an incident that was being swept under the rug by the Greensboro Police Department. He said, “The chain of command identified it and it was being dealt with.”
Hightower responded that the video was clear and they didn’t need context.
Retired police officer and current Reserve officer Eddy Summers spoke about the laws governing police action. He said the standard that applied was not 20-20 hindsight. He said officers are forced to make split second decisions based on what they know at the time.
Summers said that the courts have ruled that the standard for police officers is whether or not they made a reasonable decision based on the information they had at the time.
He noted that Yourse’s story kept changing, and when Cole started the physical struggle, Yourse was being detained as a suspect in an attempted breaking and entering. Summers said that when Yourse, who was being detained, made a phone call to someone asking him to come because the police were “harassing him,” Cole had every right to take the phone away to protect his own safety.
The internal investigation of the actions of Cole, considering the context as well as the video, determined that Cole had violated police policies as Walton noted. But before a disciplinary hearing could be held, Cole resigned. After he resigned the disciplinary board found Cole had violated police policies including one governing the use of force.
Police officers for obvious reasons don’t want to talk about this on the record, but off the record some said they saw the incident differently from the senior officers who determined that Cole had violated police policy.
They mentioned that Yourse repeatedly lied to Cole and Jackson. First Yourse said he lived in the house, then he admitted that he didn’t live there, that he had an apartment.
He said he found the shovel in the yard and brought it up on the porch and only when Cole said that a neighbor reported he was sticking it under the garage door did he come up with the story that he was sticking it under the garage door to see if his dog was in the garage. It’s an explanation that doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone stick a shovel under the garage door to see if there is dog inside? The shovel is not a periscope. It does, however, make sense, according to police officers, to try and pry the garage door open with a shovel.
Yourse said he didn’t have any identification and then, when asked again, found his identification in his pocket.
He also seemed unsure how to pronounce his mother’s name. He said both “yourss” and “your-say.” Most people know how to pronounce their own name and their mother’s name.
Yourse tried to get off the front porch. He said he wanted to go to a neighbor’s house because they could tell the police who he was. But if he wasn’t really waiting for his mother then that would have given him a chance to run.
The police also said that they noticed that when Cole was with him and Jackson was in her car trying to verify his information, that Yourse started getting agitated and breathing faster.
Cole didn’t know, as everyone does now, that it was in fact his mother’s house. He also didn’t know – and perhaps the City Council doesn’t know – that according to Police Chief Wayne Scott, Yourse’s mother earlier had reported a breaking and entering and named her son Dejuan Yourse as a suspect. Dejuan Yourse was not arrested for that breaking and entering, but the fact that his mother named him as a suspect is certainly an indication that even though it was his mother’s house he might not have been welcome.
Police officers also said that the fact that Yourse’s mother wouldn’t answer her phone when Yourse called would be something that officers would consider.
And there was the fact that when Yourse was asked if there were any outstanding papers on him, he didn’t answer no, but, “Not that I know of.” It turned out there were two warrants for failure to appear. Yourse admitted that he had been to prison and, as it turns out, has a history of criminal activity – something Cole didn’t know at the time but Jackson may have when she returned from her police car to find Cole wrestling with Jackson on the porch.
The main point police officers wanted to make is that the situation was more complicated than has been portrayed in the media, and Cole had to act on the information he had at the time, not what is now known about Yourse and the incident.
Greensboro Police Officers Association attorney Bill Hill sent out a four-page press release Friday, Sept. 30 that begins: “To say that we have been disturbed over the past week by the way the City Council has handled, and continues to handle, the incident involving former officer Travis Cole’s interaction with Dejuan Yourse is an understatement.”
The letter states that the incident was fully investigated and, “Instead, certain members of the City Council, specifically Councilperson Sharon Hightower, have turned it into a politically motivated witch hunt, with no regard to the legal rights, due process, or reputations of any other officers who may end up as collateral damage.”
Hill goes into more detail about the release of body-worn camera videos than Ryan had time to do at the City Council meeting. Hill states that the Police Officers Association supports the release “when it is legally permissible” and when the context is explained. He states, “In this case, neither criteria was met.”
Hill states that the City Council violated the state law on the privacy of personnel records and that no context was offered to explain the video before it was shown. At the Tuesday, Sept. 20 meeting, the police chief attempted to give some context at the City Council meeting but was stopped by Outling, who said the chief’s statements were not consistent with what he had seen in the video and that seemed to end any attempt to do more than state the time and place where the video was shot and that the officers were answering a call of a possible breaking and entering.
Hill notes that Cole and Jackson had a legal right to detain Yourse while they investigated the call and Cole was within his legal rights when he prevented Yourse from leaving the porch.
Hill goes into more detail about what happened on the porch that led to the altercation. He said that Cole considered the phone call to someone asking them to come help him because the police were “harassing” him a safety threat because Yourse was attempting to get additional people to the scene. He said that perceiving that as a threat Cole, “then attempts to seize Mr. Yourse’s phone to prevent him from placing additional calls. A physical struggle ensues over the phone, which Officer Cole identifies as resistive behavior. Officer Cole’s intention was at that point to place Mr. Yourse under arrest for NCGS 14-223 Resisting, Delaying, or Obstructing an Officer.”
Hill states that Yourse doesn’t immediately comply with commands to place his hands behind his back and the physical struggle continued. At this point, according to Hill, Jackson, who was in her patrol car, saw the two struggling and came to assist Cole take Yourse into custody. Hill states, “During the struggle, Officer Jackson’s left wrist became pinned between Mr. Yourse and a portion of the house. She reported that she believed Mr. Yourse was intentionally putting pressure on her wrist, to the point where she believed her wrist was on the verge of breaking. Also during the struggle both officers reported that they felt Mr. Yourse grabbing for items on their duty belts. Officer Cole also reported a sustained injury that occurred during the struggle. The injuries sustained by Officers Cole and Jackson resulted in the charges of NCGS 14-33 Assault on a Governmental Officer against Mr. Yourse.”
All charges as a result of the incident against Yourse were dropped in part because Cole resigned and would not be available to testify.
Hill states that after Yourse was taken into custody, the officers learned that Yourse had two active warrants for his arrest and two additional orders for his arrest.
Hill states that those are the facts of the case and asks the public to view the video with those facts in mind.
Hill states that the use of force was reported according to procedure and that both Cole and Jackson fully cooperated with the administrative investigation. The investigation went up the chain of command, as is the protocol, to the division commander and then to Chief Scott.
At that point, Scott ordered a criminal investigation of the incident as well as a further administrative investigation by the Professional Standards Division.
The result of the criminal investigation was turned over to the district attorney’s office, which determined that Cole had not violated any criminal laws.
The investigation by the Professional Standards Division resulted in a disciplinary hearing being scheduled for Cole, but Cole resigned before that hearing was held.
According to Hill, the Police Officers Association supports the process that determined Cole may have violated police policies, “However, we do not support the various violations of Officer Jackson’s legal rights and due process by the City Council.”
Hill continues: “City Council violated personnel privacy laws by deciding to release the videos associated with this incident without Officer Jackson’s consent, and proceeded to publicly comment and opine on this investigation at a time when the administrative investigation involving Officer Jackson’s involvement in this incident was still pending. Instead of protecting a city employee’s right to a fair disciplinary process, which is afforded to her by City Policy, State and Federal Law, some members of City Council decided to use it as an opportunity for political grandstanding, with Councilperson Hightower going so far as to demand that everyone associated with this incident be held accountable.”
Hill states that Jackson resigned because she believed that her fate had already been decided by city leaders.
Hill also notes that because of the “political grandstanding” of some city councilmembers, the promotions of four officers “who have had impeccable careers and earned their promotions” have been put on hold.
Hill states, “These four offices have now experienced personal, professional, and financial harm, without cause or any indication of wrong doing. They have suffered for the political gain of a few.”
Hill concludes, “Again, this is a case where the Police Department has a process in place to identify performance deficiencies and it worked. In their handling of this incident, some members of the city council violated more rules, regulations, and state laws than any of the offices involved; who is going to hold them accountable?”
It’s a good question.